Y’all, buttermilk biscuits!

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While home in Georgia for the holidays, I took Harvard University’s dialect test online.

Well, y’all, turns out I’m a southerner.

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When I was growing up in Atlanta, I wasn’t very fond of the south.

Actually, I did everything I could to prove I was not southern. When asked where I was from, I said Australia. During the “Freedom Fries” mania, I ordered French Frites. Okra made me gag. My parents were the only liberals within a forty-mile radius who dared put “vote democrat” signs in their yard, and I was proud of it. In high school, I skipped as many football games as was humanly possible without committing social suicide. And I insisted on leaving the south before I turned fifteen, escaping to the farthest parts of the world I could think of: Japan, India, Guatemala, Nepal.

Yet no matter how hard I tried, I still say y’all. I would trade my future child for a Price’s Chicken Coop fried chicken dinner; I know the words to every Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton song. And yes, oh yes, I love down-home, sweet and flaky, buttermilk biscuits.

For years, I have searched for the best biscuits. I’ve tried many in restaurants– Skillet Diner in Seattle and Swallow at the Hollow in Atlanta make my favorites. But I needed to eat biscuits that I had made in my own kitchen. I needed to cut butter and lard into flour, to feel silken buttermilk as I worked dough together with my hands. It would prove to myself who I was: a southerner.

It seems fitting that, just as I have begun to accept the south, I would find my homemade biscuits. It happened on New Year’s Day. My mom fried quail and boiled collards and beets; I made biscuits, trying out a new but sworn-by recipe. Sitting down to the table, we were a picture of the post-church Sunday Dinner Southern Gothic.

The biscuits tasted as they should: light yet sour, flaky yet rich. To me, they tasted like the south: tender and sweet.

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Ma Mae’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Recipe adapted from fellow Georgian and foodist brother, Alton Brown, who, for years, has sought to recreate his Ma Mae’s* biscuits. I suggest you serve these biscuits with butter and sorghum or molasses, as pictured above. It’s the southern way.

*Ma Mae: n. southern for grandmother (synonyms: mammy, grandmammy, granny, me-ma, etc…)

Makes a dozen.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces, cold
  • 2 tablespoons shortening, cut into small pieces, cold
  • 1 cup buttermilk, cold

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a rimmed baking sheet or pie pan. Prepare a clean surface with flour.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. As quickly as possible, rub cold butter and shortening into dry ingredients with your fingertips until mixture looks like small peas; don’t let the fats melt. Make a well in the center and pour in the cold buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together; it will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on rimmed pan so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible, and continue cutting.

Bake until biscuits are tall and golden brown on top, 12 to 18 minutes.